The expanse that is the modern Marvel movie megaverse
Officially, the very first movie based on a Marvel comic book was the 1986 cult-classic Howard the Duck. But that movie flopped at the box office and was for many years an embarrassment to all those involved. (Though time heals all wounds and now Howard is available on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download.) It would take 12 more years until the next movie based on a Marvel property, this time Blade in 1998, was released in US theaters that did quite well at the box office.
Still, Blade was less a superhero film and more a horror/action movie in the vein of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
What would kickoff the modern Marvel movie megaverse and restart a superhero movie craze was X-Men in 2000. Since then there has been a total of 31 Marvel superhero films encompassing at least three different movie universes.
20th Century Fox currently holds the rights to produce X-Men and Fantastic Four movies, meaning that these two properties could conceivably cross over and share storylines. Sony/Columbia Pictures holds the rights to the Spider-Man line of films. And Marvel Entertainment owns and produces movies from The Avengers to Captain America to Iron Man and the new Guardians of the Galaxy along with hundreds of other possible movie properties.
Unfortunately, this means that unless the issues with the rights changes, we’ll NEVER get to see Spider-Man as a part-time member of the Fantastic Four or Professor X and Tony Stark teaming up to fight Venom.
Still, no one at Marvel or Sony or 20th Century Fox can be complaining that much about this split. All in their superhero films have grossed something like 15+ billion in ticket sales alone, about $3.3 + billion of that is pure profit not including things like marketing. This year movies based on Marvel characters have grossed about $675 million at the box office, and the summer’s not over yet.
Looking at the slate of Marvel movies that have already been released to date, the most profitable of them are The Avengers (made $1.5 billion at the box office, about 6.9 times its budget), Iron Man 3 ($1.2 billion, 6.1), Spider-Man ($822 million, 5.9) and a tie with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Iron Man (5.9, $710 and $585 respectively).
While all this cash was being made at the box office, money spent to make the movies has also been going up too. The first X-Men movie cost about $75 million to make in 2000 (about $100 million today) and the latest X-Men: Days of Future Past cost about $200 million. Which means profit-wise the fist X-Men movie was actually MORE profitable than the most recent even though it made less at the box office!
Even movies that are widely considered failures were actually somewhat profitable. Daredevil made back about 2.3 times the amount of money spent to produce it, Elektra 1.3, Ghost Rider: Spirits of Vengeance 2.3. But who cares about making back millions on an investment when movies like The Avengers or Iron Man 3 are raking in billions.
Which, with all this money being made makes the fact that DC Comics hasn’t been producing movies based on their characters at the rate Marvel has a little odd. DC has produced the successful Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy of films and Man of Steel was successful last summer but that’s about it hit-wise. DC’s Green Lantern, Jonah Hex and Catwoman LOST something like a combined $180 million at the box office whereas Marvel movies almost never lose money.
Which leads me to the latest Marvel movie, Guardians of the Galaxy that’s currently in theaters. It’s Marvel’s first attempt at branching out from the superhero genera to something a little different. Guardians is one-third superhero and two thirds Star Wars movies mixed together. And if Guardians is a hit there’s no limit to other stories Marvel could bring to the big screen, from westerns like Rawhide Kid to a return to horror with Werewolf by Night or I could even see Captain Britain on the big screen too.
Meanwhile in the Batcave… DC readies their next film Batman vs. Superman that’s due in theaters in 2016. As for Marvel, between now and 2016 they have a total of up to SIX movies set to be released. I wonder who’s winning the movies race there?